Meet Alphonso Mills: The Man Behind The HIV Treatment Commercial
If you own a television, then you've most likely seen Alphonso Mills—the attractive Black gay man with dreadlocks in the latest commercial for a new once-a-day anti-retroviral pill used to treat people living with HIV. One Facebook friend commented: "I'm so happy Alphonso has conquered HIV with Dovato and it does not define him, but Lord, if this commercial come on one more time it's gonna qualify as a Beyonce' song."
While that status update is hilarious, it actually inspired Living Out Loud 2.0 to reach out to Mills to find out more about the Atlantan behind the widely seen commercial. Mills catches us up to speed on his life since the release of his national commercial and how he's coping with life during the pandemic.
First, how are you holding up during the pandemic? What practices, if any, are you employing to remain centered and healthy?
Mills: This has been an eye opening time for me. I am embracing things that I didn't have time to really show attention to. I have been cooking more than usual, I feel caught up to the world on shows that I have been missing, and I have been taking care of myself more. I am very involved with my church and have been building my relationship with God through study and meditation along with individual and collective prayer. My to-do lists have been keeping me sane and focused on achieving specific goals while I have a lot more control over my time.
How has your life changed since the release of the commercial? How do people react when they see you around Atlanta?
Mills: This is-naturally-one of the most life altering experiences I have ever had. There have been multiple occasions where people will recognize me, or take a couple of extra seconds to stare saying, "You look so familiar!" I accept it all with love! My mother used to tell me all the time, "People don't have to be nice to you," so I find it important to show love back when people give it so generously. I also work in the HIV field, so I have received so much love and encouragement from many other pioneers and advocates in this fight to end HIV stigma. I will never forget one day riding on MARTA to the airport and a woman noticed me as I got on. She began to say how much my story inspired her and that God can turn anything around for your good. After 15 minutes of talking as I was approaching my stop, she shared that she used to be on crack and now owns a 3 bedroom house. Moments like that is why I share my story from the beginning.
How did you end up being cast in the commercial?
I was hired to a company as a Patient Ambassador for people living with HIV(PLWH. I traveled the country sharing my story to inspire other people to take care of themselves, connect with community, and build a healthcare team that's right for them. Some Ambassadors were selected to be a part of the branding material for a new medication that was being released. It started with print (photos, short reaction clips, and confessionals) and then they offered me the opportunity to do a commercial and I was blown away. I wasn't nervous about sharing my story, as much as I was nervous about ensuring I shared it naturally without looking commercial (no pun intended). After getting to know the team behind the campaign, and the crew that were filming it, it was clear that there was a vision for this project that went beyond the details of my story, but into the power of owning your truth. The shoot took place in Los Angeles, CA and was spread out over a couple of days.
How have your relatives and friends reacted?
I truly believe I am blessed to be connected to some of the most amazing, supportive, encouraging, inspiring, and brilliant people on this side of heaven. My immediate family has been involved in my journey with HIV since 2012, so we have had some time to deal with this privately as a family before it went public. With my family's support, there was no reason for me to be ashamed. I got tired of letting HIV have so much influence on my decisions. On World AIDS Day Dec. 1, 2017, I went public about my HIV status through a Facebook social media campaign by T.H.R.I.V.E. S.S. called "iThrive" and was overwhelmed by the love I received from family and friends throughout my life. Reflecting back on those moments to where things are now is a testimony to how God will prepare you for the seasons that are coming. It is a blessing to receive so much love from people that have seen me push through and speak truth regardless of what people think about it. Truth spreads like fire, and once one person sparks, it is a lot easier for others to as well.
Do you have any advice for someone who is living with HIV who may not have come to terms with their diagnosis or who may be struggling with medication adherence?
Mills: I believe the first step to medical adherence is coming to terms with your diagnosis. The medication means nothing if we don't see the value in ourselves. Many of us received that diagnosis and are living in this new world where you have these three letters tattooed on the back of your mind and feel like no one can understand what you're feeling...but you are not alone. There are many people, including myself, who have been there and have done the work to move from a place of surviving day to day, to a place of thriving. Find someone you can really trust to release some of the weight. Say the words: "I am living with HIV". The more you say it, the less power the three letters have over you, and the easier it is to look at medication as a tool that keeps you living instead of a nail in your life you want to pull out. Everyone's story is unique, but as a community we should work together to support each other on the themes that are parallel (support from people who are HIV negative is important in this fight too!).
Anything else you'd like to add?
Mills: Darian, thank you for the work that you have done to push the envelope on how we look at and discuss HIV amongst the community, and the rights of the LGBTQ community as a whole. Without people like you, it would be taboo to think that a Black gay man would be on a national commercial speaking openly about his positive HIV status. Nor would people be open minded to have a positive reaction to the thought! Just as your work has helped me—my goal is not to be a celebrity or to get noticed, but to make this world safer and easier to be yourself in for the next generation of world changers, and to show people it is possible to get a positive HIV diagnosis and get your life back. My story that I share uses the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly to illustrate my process of dealing with my HIV status and rebuilding myself from the inside out. There are so many people who don't feel worthy of becoming butterflies, but I hope this commercial inspires people to break out of their cocoon and live life on your terms, and not that of your diagnosis.
You can watch Mills in the commercial here.